At the Washington joint press conference with Prime Minister May held on January 27th, President Trump told the watching world, "Brexit is going to be a wonderful thing." The meeting did much to clear the way for Britain to stand alone and enter trade with the United States without the European Union (EU). Their talk of a U.S.-UK free trade agreement could do much to ease the fears of some key English Members of Parliament and counterbalances the fears that Britain will be punished by a bitter EU. The positive meeting occurred at a fortuitous moment. Only four days prior, the UK's Supreme Court had ruled that Parliamentary approval must be specifically obtained before Her Majesty's Government can sign trigger negotiations to exit the EU.
May's speech to Republican Members of Congress on January 26th and her responses at the joint press conference made it clear that there were three central strategic aims for her visit. The first was to re-establish the 'Special Relationship' which had been downgraded deliberately under Obama to the disadvantage of both countries. First coined by Winston Churchill in 1946, The term "Special Relationship" grew from the countries' shared culture and implied the closest economic, political, diplomatic and military cooperation. The President's reference to it as the "Most Special Relationship" together with his immediate acceptance of an invitation to make a State visit to Britain this year should keep the momentum.
Second, May wanted Trump's expressed reassurance that he was not intending to abandon NATO but to strengthen it by ensuring that all members abide by their agreed defense spending and force levels. In addition, May suggested calls for a NATO commitment to fight terrorism and cyber warfare. Trump affirmed her position readily. This will reassure many European nations, most importantly Germany.
May's third and most difficult goal was to achieve Trump's commitment to a free trade agreement between the UK and the United States, similar to that enjoyed by Canada. Whether promised unofficially or in letters of intent, an agreement would play a potentially crucial part in May's negotiation of a soft Brexit. At present, the EU appears motivated to punish Great Britain for its audacity to leave and to force a so-called 'hard' Brexit. Such an outcome for the UK could dissuade other wavering nations like Greece, Italy and even France to follow suit. Being able to show that the UK has already a potential free trade agreement and an enhanced relationship with the U.S. might persuade the EU to accept a "soft" Brexit.